A couple of weeks ago I did something that I never thought I'd do.
I watched “Fox & Friends."
Come on, you know me better than that.
I attended my very first Pride event.
We were invited to join a group of other LA-area gay dads to proudly represent Gays With Kids by riding through the Long Beach Pride Parade in beautiful GWK-branded convertibles.
When another gay dad reached out to me to ask if we'd be interested in joining, I was honored. I asked our son Max if that sounded like fun. I had him at convertible. Then, after I accepted, the panic set in. I had never been to a pride event before. So I didn't know what to expect. More importantly, I wasn't sure it would be an appropriate venue to take our seven-year-old son, Max.
I feared we might encounter hateful protestors. And if so, how would that affect Max?
I've always admired what Pride stood for — a safe place where men and women from all walks of life could stand united to show the power of their love. Despite centuries of suppression, Pride acts as an important reminder that we belong and that we don't have to be ashamed of who we are. On one level, I very much wanted to use Pride as a way to reassure Max once again that our family is just as special, important and celebrated as all the other types of families in the world, but on the other hand, I was terrified by my own preconceived notions of what happens at Gay Pride.
At the risk of sounding like Judge Judy – I have a slight bias against those who perform graphic, lewd acts in public. Showing a little skin? Go for it –– like Madonna said, express yourself. Having full-on sex on the sidewalk? That's a different story. That's not something I want my kid to see. Some of the uninhibited Pride images I've seen captured in broad daylight disturb me, let alone an impressionable seven-year-old. I feel like those images continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes about our community. That said, I'm am by no means the morality police and I refuse to let a few vulgar people negate all the positivity that Pride brings. And so I decided it was finally time for me to stop judging a book by its cover and see for myself what Pride is really like.
What I discovered was an overwhelming sense of love, acceptance and belonging. I expected to feel supported. But the part I didn't expect — and what affected me the most — was having so many older gay men and women thanking me and my husband, Alex, for being gay dads and setting a great example for the next generation of LGBTQ individuals. I never thought doing something that seemed so regular to us would have such a profound impact on the very same people who've paved the way for us to be able to live our lives openly, freely and honestly. We are a family because of the earlier generation of gay men and women who refused to be silenced. And seeing so many of these people mouth the words “thank you" as we drove by gave me a profound sense of serenity and fulfillment.
Max took in the festivities with a huge glittering smile stamped across his face. Yes, there were a few R-Rated exhibitionists showing off a little too much bod, and yes there were a few scary protestors spouting highly inappropriate, hateful rhetoric from loudspeakers. But these are opportunities to teach Max. As much as we'd like to, we can't shelter our kids from everything we'd rather they don't see. It's up to us as parents to prepare Max for these very real, be it uncomfortable, parts of life when you grow up as a minority. When Max asked why those men were saying such horrible things, we explained that some people don't support families like ours. He, of course, was sad and confused. Then we told him to look out there at the thousands of people in the crowd who are proud of us, the ones celebrating our family, cheering us on and showering us with so much love and acceptance today. Those people far outnumber the bigots.
At the end of the day, I was reminded how necessary and crucial Gay Pride is for my family, and for countless others. At its core, Pride is about not being ashamed of who you are. And that is a powerful message to give my son –– and an important reminder for me. Pride welcomes and accepts to ALL gay people — and that includes me. So why should I have the right to pre-judge people that don't sit in judgment of me. I don't. And that's what attending Gay Pride for the first time taught me.
So whether you're a Pride-regular or a Pride-first-timer, here are some useful tips to help you and your family brave the exciting, unpredictable and unforgettable experience that is Pride.
1. GO IN WITH AN OPEN MIND
Pride is about freedom of expression. That means — spoiler alert — you're likely to see some scantily clad people shaking their moneymakers. Be the eyes and ears for your children. If there's something you don't want them to see, distract them. Have them look away for a moment — trust me, there's no shortage of other more entertaining things to look out.
2. COME PREPARED
Usually Pride parades take place in metropolitan areas where there are plenty of businesses and restaurants open to the public. But just to be safe, pack plenty of snacks, sunscreen and water. If you've got young children, consider bringing a stroller or wagon because carrying them or making them walk themselves might prove tiresome real quick. Also, if it's super sunny and hot, consider bringing an umbrella (a rainbow one, at that). Lastly, just so you don't lose your spot during bathroom breaks, set up camp near a restroom (but not too close… for obvious reasons).
3. TALK ABOUT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PRIDE
You know why Pride is important to you, but your children or your straight ally friends may not. Before you arrive, explain what Pride means to you and why it's important to celebrate the LGBTQ community. It'll give them a newfound appreciation for why you're there and give deeper meaning to what they're about to experience.
4. MAKE IT FUN FOR EVERYONE
Yes, there will be plenty of teaching moments, but this should be a fun day out for everyone. Stop at the dollar store on the way and stock up on colorful beaded necklaces, bandanas, funny hats, temporary tattoos and little gift bags so the young ones can collect stickers and other treasures they might find at Pride.
5. LEAVE THE CAR AT HOME
Parades in big cities can mean lots of traffic jams and minimal parking. So give yourself plenty of time to get there. And if you happen to live close enough to walk, or have easy access to public transportation, I say leave the car at home. Otherwise, it could be a very frustrating start to what should otherwise be a happy and carefree day.
6. TOO LOUD; NEVER TOO PROUD.
As fun as Pride parades can be, they can also be super loud! If you're bringing babies with you, consider bringing something to protect their little, sensitive ears, like comfy earmuffs or padded headphones. For everyone else, do your research ahead of time and figure out where the less crazy-busy areas will be (there are often designated quiet and alcohol-free zones for families).